Google revealed this week that it has ceased all work on Project Dragonfly, its search engine tailor-made for China.
During a Senate Judiciary hearing, Karan Bhatia, Google’s vice president of public policy, stated, “We have terminated Project Dragonfly,” after being questioned by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).
The company has said little about Project Dragonfly since the China-specific search engine was first revealed back in August 2018. A Google spokesperson notes, however, that the company announced ceasing work on the project prior to the Senate hearing. In March 2019, Google told The Verge, “Quite simply: there’s no work happening on Dragonfly.”
The tailored search engine for the Chinese market was one of several efforts by Google parent company Alphabet that has effectively caused a civil war within the company.
Is Google banned in China?
China’s censorship rules prevent companies like Google, Facebook, and Netflix from properly offering their sites and services to the country’s residents. This includes Google’s search engine as well as other software like Google Maps and YouTube. Colloquially, this web censorship is known as China’s Great Firewall, effectively banning Google (and other companies) in the country.
But in 2010, Google already withdrew from China to protest the country’s censorship. China’s residents were directed, instead, to the company’s uncensored search engine, which was still available in Hong Kong. In 2018, however, leaks pointed to Google potentially caving and releasing a search engine that respected China’s strict censorship laws. This version of Google’s search engine, Project Dragonfly, would block results related to free speech, sex, political opposition, academic studies, and certain historical events. For example, every language of Wikipedia is blocked by China.
What grounded Project Dragonfly?
Google’s employees played a role in stopping the search company in its censored search engine tracks. Many Googlers weren’t aware of Project Dragonfly until reading about it in the news in 2018. Once revealed, however, Google’s employees took action and published a letter on Medium detailing their disapproval of the project. “Our opposition to Dragonfly is not about China: we object to technologies that aid the powerful in oppressing the vulnerable, wherever they may be,” the letter reads. The open letter was signed by hundreds of Google employees, many of them senior level.
Google’s employees aren’t shy when it comes to speaking out against the company. Weeks prior to the Project Dragonfly backlash, Google workers around the world walked out in protest of the company’s forced arbitration rules. In addition, Google’s safeguarding of Andy Rubin—the creator of Android who was paid $90 million to leave the company after a sexual harassment claim—sparked many to question the tech company’s policy of keeping victims quiet. Google got rid of their forced arbitration rules in response to the massive protest.
Months earlier, many Google employees had also protested the company over Project Maven, a program that would have provided artificial intelligence-equipped drone tech to the U.S. Pentagon. Numerous Google employees resigned over the news of the project, which is now defunct.
Google’s decision to squash Project Dragonfly shows the company deciding to stick to the choice it made in 2010 to offer only uncensored internet products, and not caving to China’s demands. A decision strongly nudged, no doubt, by the company’s employees and public opinion.
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